tv Charlie Rose WHUT June 30, 2010 6:00am-7:00am EDT
>> couric: welcome to our program. general david petraeus appeared before the senate for his confirmation hearings today and as you might imagine, the subject was afghanistan's policy. for an assessment of that, we talk to jonathan alter of "newsweek" magazine, richard cohen, columnist in from the "washington post" and from ohio, colonel peter mansoor, a former aid to general petraeus. and from the pentagon david martin, the national security correspondent for cbs news. >> what there is is a difference in emphasis on whether july, 2011, has any importance. i think the pentagon would like it to be a speed bump and the wougs is determined we begin to deescalate. >> i think he oversold the war. he talks about we can't leave al qaeda in place because it could
strike again with the united states he's making this direct connection. it's so argumentative. it's such a hype. you can have enough troops there. you could keep people there to keep al qaeda off balance i don't think al qaeda is going to strike again like it did before and i think anybody who makes that argue system overselling this war. >> the most likely scenario is you get to july of 2011 and there's some progress but not enough to warrant a rapid deescalation. what do you do then? do you deescalate anyway and name situation that's getting better worse? or do you stay longer? i think the important thing here is not the function of number of troops, it's the function of time. >> general petraeus said something very interesting today at the hear. he said "remember, that july, 2011 date was picked last fall on the basis of projections made last fall." and since then-- this is me talking now-- the war has been slowing and harder than anybody
anticipated last fall. so you can see there the beginnings of an argument that we're going to need to push this july, 2011, date back. i think that's probably where the military is going. >> rose: we conclude this evening with elena kagan's supreme court confirmation hearings and for that we talked to npr's nina totenberg and the huffington post's sam stein. >> i thought she did rather well. she seemed at ease and to sort of grow in the position of being in that chair. she was able to joke with the senators. there's some senators who clearly are going to vote for her no matter i mean, they were going to vote against her no matter what she says, but i thought she had a pretty good day and came off as a human being. yesterday i thought her performance, you know, was short but very robotic and today it was a far more human person sitting there in the witness chair. >> she entered the hearings with the presumption of confirmation
and she did very little to erase that presumption. she answered the questions as much as she wanted to. she didn't divulge too much information. this process is very cynical to begin with. you don't want to reveal too much lest you find yourself in trouble. but at the same time, she deflected, really, the main lines of criticisms that republicans have thrown at her, whether it's on gun policy, whether it's on harvard, whether it's on her being a progressive. she handled each one of those in succession and at the end of the day she came up for a the better. >> rose: a look at the petraeus and kagan confirmation hearings coming up. captioning sponsored by rose communications
from our studios in new york city, this is charlie rose. >> rose: earlier today, the senate arms services committee voted to confirm general david petraeus as the new commander of the war in afghanistan. it follows general mcchrystal's resignation last week over disparaging remarks he made about president obama and his staff in a "rolling stone" article. general petraeus' confirmation was expected soon, as early as this evening. the change in command comes at a time of rising violence in afghanistan and growing doubts that the nine-year war can be won. at times today, it seemed as though it was the war strategy being questioned rather than the much-admired general credited with the successful surge in iraq. but general petraeus endorsed the counterinsurgency approach that he was directly involved in formulating. amid concerns about president obama's july, 2011, timetable for withdrawal, the general said it would be the beginning of a
process. >> it is important to note the president's reminder in recent days that july, 2011, will mark the beginning of a process, not the date when the u.s. heads for the exits and turns out the lights. as he explained this past sunday, in fact, we'll need to provide assistance to afghanistan for a long time to come. the commitment to afghanistan is necessarily, therefore, an enduring one and neither the taliban nor afghan and pakistani partners should doubt that. >> rose: with june being the deadliest month for foreign troops so far, he said he would look closely at the rules of engagement which some troops say endangered them. >> i want to assure the mothers and fathers of those fighting in afghanistan that i see it as a moral imperative to bring all assets to bear to protect our men and women in uniform and the afghan security forces with whom my staff troopers are fighting shoulder to shoulder. those on the ground must have all the support they need when they are in a tough situation.
i mention this because i am keenly aware of concerns by some of our troopers on the ground about the application of our rules of engagement and the tactical directive. they should know that i will look very hard at this issue. >> rose: in addressing concerns about tensions between the civilian and military team, petraeus said: >> i've talked in recent days with all of these members of the team, including president karzai as well as with ambassador richard holbrooke, the u.s. special representative for afghanistan and pakistan. we are all firmly united in seeking to forge unity of effort >> rose: joining me now from new york is jonathan alter of "newsweek" magazine. his book about president obama, "the promise" looks about president obama's relationship with the military. also, richard cohen, a columnist in from the "washington post". from ohio, colonel peter mansoor, he was deeply involved in formulating the surge with general petraeus and served as his executive officer in iraq. he's now professor of military history at of of state university. from the pentagon, david martin,
cbs news national security correspondent. i am pleased to have all of them on this program. peter mansoor, tell me how you saw what petraeus was doing today in this confirmation. and what was he trying to accomplish? >> well, i think he was setting the conditions for his command tph-pbd n afghanistan. he realizes that this is going to be a long war, it's going to be a very difficult war. it's a very complex war. and he wants to tamp down the expectations that july, 2011, there's going to be some sort of watershed where we can say, oh, yeah, we've won or, no, we've lost and that it will be sort of this either/or choice. and that's why he talked about it will be the beginning of a process and there will be assessments and we'll adjust as time goes on. >> rose: i wonder what the conversation was like when the president said to general petraeus, "i need you. the country needs you." you know, general petraeus is a
good soldier and he realizes exactly how much sacrifice this demands of his family. he's already been committed overseas for five and a half years since member. he realize this is a step down from central command to the command of i.s.a.f. and afghanistan. but he saluted and said "yes, mr. president, i'll do it." >> rose: do you think he wanted any assurances from the president? >> i think he probably... they probably had a conversation about is the policy still in place, are we still committed to the strategy? and when he got those assurances, then, you know, he went forward from there. it's pretty clear that by putting him into command of i.s.a.f. the president is trying to maintain continuity in the strategy and the counterinsurgency proefp which hasn't been tried yet. so it hadn't been tested, the coyne strategy? >> no, in fact, the offensives in kandahar haven't begun yet.
we've had initial offensives in helmand province. all the troops aren't on the ground. there's over 10,000 american troops left to arrive. i think a year from now when we're at that decision point of july of 2011, we'll have a much greater sense of whether the strategy is working. it will be hard to say whether it's going to work or not work. just as we were in that same point in iraq in february of 2010. >> rose: david, at the pentagon per say with knowing the peach in the national arena area that you know, is there growing unease about this afghan war and the afghan policy as to whether even with all the people on the ground, we have the best strategy in the world and the best general in the world none of that can necessarily get the afghans to do what's necessary to accomplish the mission?
>> a lot of people have that worry. you heard it last fall when the cables that the u.s. ambassador to afghanistan, karl eikenberry, sent in, leaked, and he essentially said that more troops is not going to make a difference because our partner, the afghan government, is too weak and too corrupt. and that remains the number-one problem. of course 100,000 american troops can do a lot of damage to the taliban. but what's going to come in behind them? and that's the so-called government in a box that mcchrystal wanted to deliver into marjah after that first offensive in february. and the fact is that some of that government in a box showed up and a lot of it didn't and so marjah is a very mixed bag. and now things are going slower than planned in the offensive for kandahar. >> rose: i assume on this rules of engagement thing that petraeus may very well change where mcchrystal was. >> i don't think so, charlie.
>> rose: (laughs) like i said, he will not change what mcchrystal was doing. (laughs). >> he said that mcchrystal's rules of engagement and his tactical directives, which are the way you tell the troops how to implement the rules of engagement, are fundamentally sound. those were petraeus' words. fundamentally sound. so all he's going to do is make sure that everybody in the command is executing the tactical directive it is same way. because you know there's one commander out there who is probably doing it more conservatively than another and he wants to get everybody so that they implement these rules in the same way. but he basically endorsed these rules of mcchrystal's. >> rose: how do you expect petraeus to be different? >> mcchrystal had never commanded a large number of people. i mean, he had... his experience was in special operations. and by definition, those are small groups of people.
petraeus has commanded at its peak in iraq 170,000 troops. he knows how to run a large organization. i think stan mcchrystal was learning some of that on the fly and i think that will be one big difference. >> rose: stan mcchrystal announced his retirement. what is he going to do? >> well, you know, what he said was that when he retired he wanted to run a second handbook store. i don't know if the technology will permit that anymore. i'm sure people are going to have him writing studies of what he did in afghanistan as part of a lessons-learned, which the army is constantly working on. he does not seem like a guy who now wants to go to work for industry and make big bucks. >> rose: or appear on television all the time. >> i think he's probably had enough fun doing that. >> rose: jonathan alter, you listened today and we'll show
this, where lindsey graham challenges general petraeus with vice president biden's comments. and it came right out of this book called "a promise." >> the vice president of the united states has been quoted in a book widely published in the united states which i'm sure the enemy can have access to that, come july 2011, we're going to be leaving in large numbers, you can bet on it. is he right? >> well, first, let me just state something that he said that i could share with you and others. in the national security council meeting that followsed, the meeting that i had with the president in the oval office at which the president laid out what the future was going to be and described his expectations, the vice president grabbed me and said "you should know that i am 100% supportive of this policy." and i said that i'm reassured to hear that, is it okay to share
that with others? and beyond that, i might add, that i'm hosting vice president biden for dinner tonight at our quarters in tampa and so, again, we have another opportunity to continue that conversation. the third and final point is secretary gates has said, i believe in testimony, that he never heard vice president biden say that remark, either. so... for what it's worth. >> rose: well, here's the man who wrote it, jonathan alter. so... >> first of all, the vice president's office has been asked about this, as you might expect, charlie. they have confirmed that vice president biden did say this to me in his office at the beginning of the year. he even came back from the door and kind of put his tpeupbger in my chest and said "bet on it." and the quote was "you're going to see a whole lot of people moving out in july of 2011. bet on it." now, so the question is what does "a whole lot of people" mean? he never said... >> rose: or whether they change their mind. >> i don't believe they have changed their mind.
he never said that we were going to have a complete withdrawal in july, 2011. the president never said that. as the president reiterated the other day, nobody is talking about turning out the lights. there's always going to be a residual force for the foreseeable future. i mean, we've had some troops in south korea for more than 50 years. there are going to be some troops in afghanistan for an awfully long time. the question is whether we're going to have 100,000 troops there for an awfully long time. and both the president and the vice president are determined that the answer to that question is no. for a lot of different reasons. and when i interviewed the president he talked about moving the bell curve to the left. so that we've got... in faster and out faster. like this. and he was very determined that this not be a war that goes on all that much longer as he said at west point in his speech there. we can't afford to have a long
commitment with a large number of troops as a country. and he was extraordinarily direct about that. so there really isn't maybe as much difference here as lindsey graham thinks. what there is is a difference in emphasis on whether july, 2011, has any importance. and i think the pentagon would like it to just be kind of like a little speed bump. and the white house is determined that, you know, at that point we begin to deescalate. >> rose: do you think anybody in the administration... do you think the president or the vice president or admiral mullen regret that the president said that in the west point speech? a date certain to begin the process? >> absolutely not. and they have confirmed this in recent days. >> rose: because they believed at the time it was necessary... >> they believe in timelines. republicans don't believe in timelines. even general cartwright said in a situation room... i have in
"the promise" the thing like afghanistan, charlie, the thing like health care or the economy or other things i'll do with in "the promise," there were some real disagreements in the situation room where they went through these 20 hours of meetings within the administration. and there was a whole faction that believed that it would help to be honest about it. that as a country we are not going to be staying there forever and it would help with karzai to tell him, look, we're not... you've got to start to get your act together because we're not going to be around forever to prop you up. >> rose: david, can you just add something before i go to richard about the war in general. but can you add anything as to what they intend to do about this date? >> well, general petraeus said something very interesting today at the hearing. he said remember, that july, 2011, date was picked last fall on the basis of projections made last fall. and since then-- this is me talking now-- the war has been slower and harder than anybody
anticipated last fall. so you can see there the beginnings of an argument that we're going to need to push this july, 2011, date back. i think that's probably where the military is going. >> rose: but it seems to me... peter, weigh in on this for me, please. >> well, i would agree. i think that until you get the troops on the ground and you see what kind of impact they have, it's pretty tough to say we're going to be able to pull all sorts of forces out beginning in july, 2011, and keep our national security objective intact in afghanistan. and i think that's where general petraeus is going. that he wants this to be the beginning of an assessment and the beginning of a process and then if the conditions are right we can begin to withdraw and if not, if... >> rose: if not. >> if our national security goals are... we stay. and we continue to train the afghan army. that process is going much more slowly than we thought. but it is progressing. and so this is... it's what general petraeus said in the congressional hearings two weeks ago. we have to be patient. and we're not a patient nation,
unfortunately. >> rose: jon attar? >> it's true that petraeus is holding a lot of cards because obama having already fired general mckiernan and then general mcchrystal is not going to be in a position to relieve general petraeus who's widely revered for good reason on this issue. so he will have a lot of influence. but i would not underestimate not just joe biden's feelings about this but feelings in the white house and the president's own feelings that this is already the longest war in american history. and this idea... if more troops don't work... in other words, it hasn't been fully tried yet. but if they get there and conditions continue to deteriorate, what that argues for is that more troops don't necessarily help. and it makes us more of a target, more of an occupying power, and that the idea that a further application of military force will improve the situation might be fallacious. so the idea that things are not working will not necessarily be
an argument for us staying longer. >> rose: what do you think? >> well, i mean, i think it's a muddle. and nothing's precise and nothing is clear. it's what... virtually a definition of a quagmire. and we're heading into it. i happen to believe that if you put more troops into it, you put more targets into it. unless you can put so many troops into it that you can absolutely take over the country. which we can't do. we can't afford it. we don't have the manpower, we don't have the money. the taliban are there. i mean, they can see these hearings. i thought today general petraeus... i just read a little bit of the testimony on account of it. i think he oversold the war. i mean, he talks about, you know, we can't leave al qaeda in place because they could strike again with the united states. he's making this direct connection which is... it's so argumentative. i mean, it's such a hype that, you know, you can have enough troops there, you can keep people there to keep al qaeda off balance. i mean, i don't think al qaeda is going to strike again like it did before. and i think anybody who makes
that argument is overselling this war. look, it's such a complex thing and it's so sad. when you have to make decisions on what your strategy and your tactic is going to be, are you going to take chances with american lives or are you going to take chances with afghan civilians? this is the nature of an insurgency. and this country is not going to put up with the margin of error being on the side of the afghans and not on american troops and now this is out of the bag, too. this thing has become impossible and it's become impossible because what you don't have is leadership the white house. he's not been clear. he's not been strong. he hasn't told you exactly what he wants to do and how he's going to get there. and that's why you've not go confusion in the ranks and the confusion in the white house. >> rose: tkao *ubl the president actually did not want to do this but after his review came to believe that he at least had to give it a try? >> i mean, if you look at obama-- look at him and not listen to his words-- i don't
see... the body language doesn't show any enthusiasm for this war. not for what i can see and i don't see why you would have any enthusiasm for this war. >> rose: jonathan? >> well, first of all, i think whether they came to the right result or not is in serious question. but the process-- which i got deeply interested in chronicling-- was about as good as you can expect it to be. they asked the essential questions. he came out... his speech at west point was very clear. the interviews that he gave were very clear that this was not going to be a long commitment. and that he was going to give it a year. maybe they'll delay and it won't be july, 2011, it will be july, 2012 before the real deescalation begins. but he is not going to get into another six, eight, ten years. and this was why mcchrystal got fired. like, this is a point that i think was missed last week. it wasn't his first trip to the wood shed, charlie.
you know, he had gotten in trouble in 2009 for coming on your program, being on "60 minutes," bunch of other places and then in a london speech in the q&a afterwards and making it seem as if he couldn't support this much shorter commitment with fewer troops. and obama was furious about this because he believed that he was going to essentially come up with a hybrid of biden's very few troops and mcchrystal and petraeus' a bunch of troops and a third way in afghanistan. he's been clear about it, but it's a subtle policy and you have to pay attention closely to understand what he's talking about. >> rose: david, do you add to that? >> one republican senator today said that during the iraq war president bush had petraeus' back. and i think that's a true statement regardless of what you think of president bush or what you think of the war in iraq. the president had petraeus' back. and the question now is if...
with petraeus in afghanistan, is this president, obama, going to have petraeus' back? >> rose: peter? >> well, it's an interesting question because the most likely scenario is you get to july of 2011 and there's some progress but not enough to warrant a rapid deescalation. what do you do then? do you deescalate anyway and make the situation that's getting better worse? or do you stay longer? i think the important thing here is not the function of number of troops, it's the function of time. and this is something that i would agree with the others that this president hasn't shown yet a firm commitment that we're in this for the long haul. until he does, the folks in the region are going to make their assessments accordingly. >> he's not in it for the long haul. this is something that there's been a lot of debate about. we're not. we're just not. >> if you look at karzai, you look at what happens. if he's not going to stick with karzai and karzai says "if this guy is going to cut and run or
i'm not going to have enough troops on the ground" or whatever the case may be, if he doesn't want to end up like that last president of afghanistan who was tortured to death by the taliban. i mean, this is not a nice part of the world. >> he'd better accelerate and get rid of the drug dealers in his government and make some changes. and a lot of people think that these timetables rather than being a negative are a positive because they help to focus their minds. >> rose: karzai's attention. but that's a whole... it's abargument. peter, we all know that what happened in iraq and the surge took place at a time you're bringing in more troop bus also you had the awakening. there's no awakening in afghanistan, is there? >> there is there isn't, but one of the reasons there isn't, again, is because there isn't this commitment. if you read "a chance in hell," a new book on the battle of ramadi, sheik sadr says to shawn mcfar land says "the reason i went against al qaeda is i knew when president bush... i knew you had my back. i knew that you would be here.
you've said that you would be with me when i battled them." and then when president bush announced the surge, it just reebb forced that. and that is not in play in afghanistan. so it would be pretty tough to tell anyone to turn against the taliban and they'd say "well, why should we do that? you're going to leave and they're going to come and kill us." >> rose: how do you convince the afghans you're going to be in it until... you know, until you achieve your objective? >> well, i think, you know, it's not only this time that they've set this withdrawal date, because you can argue about what's really going to happen on july, 2011. but i think most people hear "withdrawal" and you go back and look at the american history in that part of the world and the american history is to get out of there as fast as they can. so you would have to be pretty gullible to be a taliban... excuse me, an afghan and think
that the u.s. is going to stay by it. and you would be entirely reasonable to be a member of the taliban and think all you have to do is hang in there and the u.s. will leave sooner or later. >> it reminds me of vietnam, if you're old enough to remember vietnam. vietnam there was progress. there was always progress. and it was sort of like a convoyor belt. you never made enough progress fat enough. but tet, the turning point of the war, was... >> rose: won by the... >> won by the united states. we got the better of it. but it so appalled the american people, the cost of it, and the drama of it that it was a turning point, actually for the vietcong and the north vietnamese. so we're not... there isn't anybody you can say to in anywhere in this country that you have such a stake in this war that we're going to stay there for another five, six whatever years because you're going to get to july and then it's going to be september and then it's going to be december. it keeps going that way. that's the nature of it.
and the democrats in congress very well remember this and they say no, we're not going to go down this road. i mean, look, i... if congress goes republican, everything would change. >> if the house goes republican they'll stay longer. >> if nancy pelosi is the speaker, we're not going to be there for another five years. but as the former u.s. ambassador to afghanistan in the bush administration said of the taliban he got a message from them and the message said you've got all the watches, we've got all the time. so they can wait, as david said. >> oh, sounds like a good song. >> rose: this is what tom ricks wrote. peter i'm coming to you. he said this in the "washington post" "this confrontation between a senior army general and the president of the united states may have singnalled the beginning of the end of the war in afghanistan in a year or two president obama will be able to say he gave the conflict his best shop reshaping the strategy and even putting his top guy in charge, a general who led the surge in iraq. but that thing still didn't work out. then he can begin pulling out."
>> well, that's certainly one way of looking at it. but this war isn't a foregone conclusion. there are some big differences between afghanistan and vietnam. for one thing, the majority of the people in afghanistan do not want the taliban back in power. and that creates a psychology that's... that can work toward... for us. and the other thing is that the key to this war lies across the boarder in pakistan. >> rose: right. right. >> if we can continue to get the pakistanis to close down the sanctuaries, then the taliban don't stand a chance. the only reason that they're still alive is because of those sanctuaries. >> that's a great point he made. so much of it is about pakistan. >> rose: of course it is. david, speaking about pakistan. >> and the pakistanis are another country in that part of the world which saw the u.s. beat feet back after the soviet i separation. so they know what our history is as well. to me, pakistan is the test bed for vice president's biden's
counterterrorism strategy. he wants to just go after bad guys, try to kill as many bad guys as you can. that is essentially what the c.i.a. is trying to do in pakistan with these drone strikes. and according to official accounts, they're being very successful. like, killing more than 500 in the past two years and according to the internal figures, they've only killed about 30 civilians. so these are not just create manager -r terrorists by causing civilian casualties. but the fact is you can use that kind of strategy to get the taliban and al qaeda to keep their heads down but it's not going to put them out of business. >> rose: david, thank you very much. we just lost peter because of the satellite feed. thank you very much for standing for us this evening. one last question, richard. you've seen more and more people willing to come out against this war. do you get a feeling far. >> ? >> no question about it and no question also that the mcchrystal incident sort of triggered an outpouring of
doubt, questioning about the war. i mean, the news isn't bad. i mean, marjah was supposedly the turning point, turns out it's not the turning point. >> they're also arguing on the ground that they're not there yet. >> right. but what i'm saying is there's always been a lot of doubt about this it. a lot of questions about it. and the first time around in afghanistan there was a war that lasted it seemed like a day and a half and then it was over and we turned to iraq. now we're back in afghanistan, afghanistan, afghanistan. it doesn't look like it's winnable. it does look like it's losable. that's the thing that concerns a lot of people. it concerns me. nobody wants to say to some little girl-- and i picture this little girl-- in afghanistan "i'm turn mig back on you, i'm turning you over to the taliban. you will never be educated. you will be beaten repeatedly." who wants to say that? who wants to give up a place that is going to be turned over to thugs? and that's what the taliban is. they really are fascists in
their mentality. you don't want to say that. you want to say "we stand for something and we should stand by them. " but there's a point at which you say "we can't do it. we don't have the reach or the power. and interesting to me. there's a book that i look... read once every while, a history of the middle east, an older book by david from kin and he points out what the british try to do in the middle east. every time they brought military force to bear they produced a guerrilla movement. i mean people push back against this. the only way to handle it is with a million troops. i mean, then you'll have you have no do it. less than that, i don't know if it's a million. but you need more than a hundred thousand to do it. >> i don't agree with that at all. look, i don't know whether it's going to end in failure or success. but i do know that there have been periods of stability in afghanistan. the idea that folks in afghanistan want to go back to the taliban is crazy. they don't. and if they can get enough of a
civilian government, get these locals brought in through a diplomatic process similar to what petraeus did in iraq, there's at least a chance for some period of stability. now, does that make it worth it for us to be there? not necessarily. but i don't think we should be so pessimistic and so definitive in our pessimism. look at what we thought about iraq. everybody was sure that that couldn't possibly succeed. obama and hillary were against the surge. the essence of obama's policy, charlie, came in what they call the secure teleconferences to the region. and he said over and over again to mcchrystal and the other commanders in the region "do not occupy what you can not transfer do not occupy what you can not transfer." what he meant by that was it doesn't do anybody any good for u.s. forces to be sitting in these villages as an occupying
power. it just makes things worse. so the whole task is to get the afghan forces to a point where authority can be transferred to them. and that is very tough but not impossible. >> rose: so the ponderables, having nothing to do with the americans per say, having to do with afghans on the one hand and pakistanis on the other hand. >> right. and training. just basic... >> rose: well, that's afghans. >> basic training because a lot of these even officers can't even read. >> and indians. >> rose: and what? >> indians. >> rose: oh, and how they do will give confidence to the pakistanis that they can or cannot... indeed. let me come to this one last point about the president. what do you think in the end made the president make the commitment he did stan mcchrystal. had nothing to the with his firing. having to do he said in the beginning i'll give you everything you want. you can have the creme dela
creme of the military at your side in this war. why did the president make the commitment after that long review to afghanistan. even though he put a date on it which we argue the merits of that. he injected... this president, more troops in there. he had to believe something or at least he had to be convinced that he would not be satisfied unless he made a big effort. >> well, there's that. but there's also... it's important to look at the vietnam analogies. obama did something that no president has done before. in his west point speech he explicitly rejected the vietnam analogy. usually presidents embrace an analogy. he rejected it. when i asked him about this, he said that the difference is that the vietcong were not a threat to our national security. they were not going to kill us. al qaeda wants to kill us. so this is about al qaeda. it's about command and control of nuclear weapons in pakistan. it is about stabilizing border
regions which can be and has been on 9/11 a direct national security threat to the united states. so the way obama looks at his job is that his first responsibility is to protect this country and he could not... >> rose: so what you said, jonathan, is that the president believes if you don't stop the taliban, you can't stop al qaeda? >> no. this is what a lot of those 20 hourses of conversations were about. how much do you have to stop the taliban to stop al qaeda? and you don't necessarily have to wipe out the taliban... >> rose: i'm not say wipe out. wipe out is not the word i used. stop them. >> stop them from taking kabul? >> rose: yes. >> stop them from controlling certain regions? not necessarily. >> rose: the bottom line is the president of the united states made a decision that this was deeply in our national security and unless we can stop al qaeda... >> al qaeda definitely. he's very focused on the war in al qaeda. >> rose: i know that. but he's also very focused on that afghanistan is central to stopping al qaeda.
>> yes. >> this was the same decision... he's wrong on his analogy, who am i to correct the president? but it's the same decision that was made early on in vietnam. if you don't stop them in vietnam, they'll be in san francisco. that was the motto of the times. it was part of the communist conspiracy. >> this isn't like the domino theory. >> rose: no, it's not the domino theory at all. >> it's not the domino theory it's a question of it's a communist conspiracy and you've got to stop them somewhere. i heard general petraeus today say it's almost the same thing about the taliban and al qae. i believe that you can keep the pressure on... >> rose: al qaeda? >> ...al qaeda. they will keep their heads down and the taliban are not a threat to the united states. >> rose: >> there were a lot of people in the situation room who are arguing that. but if the pakistani taliban connects with the afghan taliban, it gets unbelievably complicated and fascinating. then it becomes a different threat than the taliban just controlling certain regions of afghanistan. so what was fascinating to me was that they actually unlike
vietnam or iraq, before committing more troops, they actually went through a 20-hour process. it was the most deliberation they've had on a national security issue since the cuban missile crisis in 1962. to try to look at all these assumptions and not just stumble into a bigger commitment. >> and they came out with a compromise. >> that's right. they compromised. >> and there were a lot of people who would have said that before he went into it this is what he's going to do. he's going to cut the difference. instead of going all the way with escalation, he's going to compromise. it's a war he doesn't feel in his gut. that's what you do. so the 20 hours or 24 hours whatever didn't matter all that much. >> well, no, i don't agree with that. because a lot of it had to do with what kind of... asking the pentagon a series of tough questions that they had not properly answered. and obama and biden played good cop/bad cop. they sent the pentagon over... back over and over again for answers to these questions. so maybe i'm too much of a process guy and i'm not... i'm
with you and i'm not sure about the result of the policy. but i was impressed by the the process. and for dick cheney, who ignored afghanistan for years to call it dithering was kind of pathetic since they never actually looked at iraq before we stumbled into it. obama just didn't want to slip into the war. he wanted to do it in a way that had some logic to it. and there is some lodgic to this approach. >> listen, you may be wrong but you wrote a great book. i'll take it. >> rose: the senate judiciary committee continued its second day of confirmation hearings for supreme court nominee elena kagan. she is the current solicitor general of the united states and a former dean of harvard law school. if confirmed, she would join sonia sotomayor and ruth bader ginsburg as the third woman on the court. senators from both parties pressed kagan on a broad range of irv shoes, including her views on the constitution and her past association with justice thurgood marshall who
republicans attacked as a liberal activist. under intense questioning from alabama senator jeff sessions, kagan defended her policy towards military recruiters when she was dean of harvard law school. >> i know what happened at harvard. i know you were an outspoken leader against the military policy. i know you acted without legal authority to reverse harvard's policy and deny those military equal access to campus. >> i always tried to make sure that i conveyed my honor for the military and i always tried to make sure that the military had excellent access to our students and in the short period of time, senator sessions, that the military had that access through the veterans organization, military recruiting actually went up. but i also felt a need to protect our... to defend our school's very long standing antidiscrimination policy and to protect the men and women, the
students who were meant to be protected by that policy, the gay and lesbian students who want to serve in the military and do that most honorable kind of service. >> rose: california senator dianne feinstein asked kagan to comment on yesterday's supreme court decision. the court ruled that the second amendment takes precedent over state and local gun control laws >> why is a 5-4 decision in two quick cases, why does it throw out literally decades of precedence in the heller case in your mind? why do these two cases become settled law? >> senator feinstein, because the court decided them as they did. and once the court has decided the case, it is binding precedent. now, there are various reasons for why you might overturn a precedent. if the precedent is... has proved... proves unworkable over
time or if the doctrinal foundations of the precedent are eroded or if the factual circumstances that are... were critical to why the precedent... to the original decision, in those change. but unless one can sort of point to one of those reasons for reversing a precedent, the operating presumption of our legal system is that a judge respects precedent. >> rose: joining me now from washington, nina totenberg, she covers the supreme court for npr. also in washington, sam stein, political reporter for the huffington post. i'm pleased to have both of them on this program to talk about this confirmation hearing. i go first to nina. tell me what's your assessment of the nominee's performance today and whether she's in... how she's handling these questions from senator sessions and others. >> i thought she did rather well. she seemed at ease and to sort of grow in the position of being
in that chair. she was able to joke with the senators. there's some senators who clearly are going to vote for her no matter what she says... i mean they're going to vote against her no matter what she says. but i thought she had a pretty good day and came off as a human being. yesterday i thought her performance, you know, it was short but it was very robotic. and today it was a far more human person sitting there in the witness chair. >> rose: but still confident? >> very confident. very confident. but she... you know, i've watched elena kagan over the years and they have beaten out of her every inclination to take people on. you know, you could see that she's start down that road a little bit and just back way off. >> rose: sam? >> well, i agree. i mean, she entered the hears with the presumption of confirmation and she did very little to erase that presumption. she answered the questions as much as she wanted to. she didn't divulge too much
information. i mean, this process is very cynical to begin with. you don't really want to reveal too much lest you find yourself in trouble. but at the same time, she deflected, really, the main lines of criticisms that republicans have thrown at her. whether it's on gun policy, whether it's on harvard, whether it's on her being a progressive. she really handled each one of those in succession and i think at the end of the day she came out for the better. >> rose: as she said anything that surprised you? >> i was a little surprised, i guess, by her answers on the second amendment rights. you played the clip with dianne feinstein. she actually addressed those later on in the hearings as well and she really said, you know, plainly, that this is now precedent law of the land. and, you know, one of the things going into the confirmation hearings was a charge that she was antigun. it was one of the things that republicans were pinning their hopes on. i think by doing that she really affirmed she's not going to tack this will as an issue. i think a telling sign is that senate democrats actually sent out her statements to reporters to affirm that she's not a second amendment critic. that she will, in fact, keep heller and mcdonald as law.
and it goes to show you the power of the gun lobby in washington, d.c. >> rose: >> senator feingold, for example , no slouch as a liberal, said he had always thought there was an individual right. so i think the questioning on this was a little bit silly. the real question is the court has said there is an individual right to bear arms. the real question is what kind of regulations are per missable? what are reasonable regulations? and nobody asked her that. >> rose: would she have answered that? >> she would have given some sort of guide... she would have given presumably some sort of guidelines of how you approach what's reasonable. but this sort of gives her... it's easy to say yes, i think there's a second amendment right. president obama has said he thinks there's a a second amendment right to bear arms. she said that during the campaign, before he was president, after he's been president. this is not controversial particularly anymore. the next question is the controversial one.
how much can you regulate the right to bear arms? >> rose: what is all... nina, what is all this about her relationship to justice thurgood marshall and trying to somehow identify her as a liberal activist? >> well, republicans have been trying for weeks to prove that she is, as they say, a liberal activist. and... or a liberal progressive. or whatever... whatever name you want to put on it. and they do that by trying to associate with her with both people she's worked for, people she's introduced and said nice things about. and any sort of connection they can make to this. and i personally think sort of making the case against liberal activism in the case of thurgood marshall is a politically... not a shrewd thing to do.
after all, thurgood marshall is most known really not for being a supreme court justice. he was the first african american supreme court justice. but he was the single person who is identified as the architect of the legal civil rights struggle in america leading to the desegregation of the public schools and public facilities in this country. so i'm... i know republicans want to sort of divide the two-- the justice from the lawyer-- but i think that's a very difficult thing to do. and in the last analysis, elena kagan knows marshall's record better than her critics know his record. so she's able to wiggle out of those connections very easily. >> well she said very clearly when she was asked about this that, you know, you're confirming elena kagan not thurgood marshall. and i had a very top g.o.p. strategist e-mail me when this line of questioning came up and he said "oh, here we go again, the republicans are just about to to alienate minorities one
more time by going that have icon of the civil rights movement." so i agree completely with nina. >> rose: where do you think from reading the... whatever she has said and whatever she has written where she will come down in terms of the supreme court as it now sits. >> she certainly is on the liberal side of... if you have... if you look at the current court, she would be a quote... on the liberal side of the current court. but i have no idea where she would fall on a number of critical issues. from national security questions... but i think i would make the argument that as a justice she is more... a more liberal justice than she was a judge carrying out the instructions of the supreme court. and i really... i think it's very difficult to know what kagan's views are on a lot of very important issues. >> rose: i think what did she
say in answer to a question yesterday? what i'm going to use on the supreme court is not my politics but my judgment. >> yes. >> let me just say something. justice steven breyer said recently, he said "people go around saying what does elena kagan think? what does elena kagan think?" and justice breyer said "i know what she thinks." and everybody said "what does she think?" he said "she doesn't know what she thinks. until n -l you've been here and you realize you're the last stop on the train line, if you haven't thought these through, you don't really know what you think." >> rose: so until you get... >> and isn't that sort of the benefit in some respects? she has such a scant actual legal record or written trail that there's very little to pin her on. so yes she's an unknown commodity and in this highly politicized environment that is the supreme court nomination hearing, that's actually an asset. and in some aren'ts it's sad because you're taking a gamble on who the nominee will actually end up being. >> rose: how will she be...
what's her temperament? what might be her temperament on the court? >> from everyone've talked to, she seems to be completely amiable. she's able to reach across party lines. she praised, for instance, republican judges throughout the course of the day. and she clearly lad very nice personal exchanges with senator lindsey graham among others. and so you get the sense that she would actually be a consensus builder on the court. i talked to someone who worked closely with her an he said "i expect her to be the swing vote on the court." she prides herself on being able to see both sides of the argument and form a consensus through that. >> rose: you can't answer, nina, what views she has expressed or where she might be surprising to... no. and i don't buy the idea she's going to be a consensus builder, either. these are nine individuals with very clear ideas of their own and the ideas that... the notion that somebody comes on the court-- especially a new justice
who doesn't... hasn't thought through all these questions, but anybody-- that they're going to be... persuade people on a regular basis to change their views i think is a fiction. there are individuals who are swing justices because they are in the center of where the court may be at that moment, but not... it's not that they pull other votes, it's they really... their vote may be determinative, like justice kennedy. but i think that the idea that this is... you can build consensus in the same way that you build legislative consensus of some kind, that you hammer out a compromise is a fiction. >> rose: what function do these hearings serve, sam? >> well, increasingly... >> i think minimal function. i think a lot of it is stage craft. although you do get a good sense of the relationship between... or the standards and the ability to question of each individual senator. a good example is chuck
grassley, for instance. he wanted to hammer down elena kagan's thesis in which she talked about how judges take their personal ethics to cases. and she immediately said "i wrote that before i went to law school and i don't regard any of that as truth about me." and he said "well, you've just gone and ruined the five minutes of questions i've had ahead of me." and hi still proceeded to ask her about the thesis. so a lot of this is stage craft. a lot of this is... a lot of these senators are know how they're going to vote. so you have to take it for what it is. a lot of it is just predetermined outcome. >> rose: how does this president handle the supreme court questions and does he take it more seriously than most and does he have more interest in it than most? does he get more involved in the selection of the nominee than most? >> i'm not... i certainly think that he cares about it greatly. but i think it is a... the selection process, coming up with the names as they're funneled up through the president is largely a process
that is not his. and, you know, there have been presidents in the past who've said, "look, i want you to... i have a friend and i want you to... i want that person... i trust that person's judgment enormously and there are some good and bad examples of that. the bad ones are probably abe forthys and for george bush it was harriet miers. but i don't think that obama has interjected his own sort of selection sense into the process until he gets a short list. and it's a short list that i think a lot of people think has been deficient because it's... there aren't a lot of judges who are young enough to serve who are the product of democratic... the democratic nomination process. and that has limited them greatly and i don't think
they've really seriously looked at litigators, people from around the country whom they don't know personally. they say they've done that. i don't think they've really done that. >> rose: i think it's nice to see a non-judge be nominated to the court. >> yes, but the kagan nomination was very much a safe play, which is what nina is getting at. here is someone who had very little against her, she had a very scant legal record, or written record. she's always been a... an achiever. she was the dean of harvard law school. you know, there's very little to actually derail her nomination. and i think the president is and his advisors realized they didn't want to have a hard political fight, especially after health care reform, and they took the easy route. paoup what makes a great justice, nina? >> you know, i'm not sure that you really know that, there's any way to know that well in advance. a great justice is somebody
whose mind is persuasive. and sometimes a great justice is somebody who's in the right place at the right time. a great justice may be somebody who has five votes and can hold them together. a great justice may be a great dissenter who's known as a great dissenter. i think we're seeing at the moment justice antonin scalia who for decades has been mainly a dissenter on the biggest cases that the court has handled and now for the first time there are five votes to support his views on a lot of subjects, not the least of which is gun control. and he is the right guy in the right place at the right time with a significant amount of talent. >> rose: thank you, nina. thank you, sam. >> thank you. >> take care.